Archive for Friday, March 7, 2008

Sebelius ‘stunned’ by energy bill process

Coal-plant legislation approved; governor accuses lawmaker of veto override ‘auction’

March 7, 2008


Coal plant bill headed to Sebelius

One of the most controversial bills at the statehouse is headed to the Governor. Friday afternoon, the Senate passed a bill allowing 2 coal-fired power plants to be built in SW Kansas. Enlarge video

How our senators voted

Lawrence's two senators remained split on the energy issue.

State Sen. Marci Francisco, a Democrat, voted against the bill, while state Sen. Roger Pine, a Republican, voted for it.

"I am not convinced that the changes could in any way balance the impact that the construction of an uncertain number of new coal plants would have on our environment," Francisco said.

Pine, however, said he thought the bill represented a good compromise.

"It appears to have additional areas where they made it more environmentally friendly," Pine said.

But Pine said he thinks the Legislature will continue working on the issue.

"I'm sure that the negotiating and the political end of this is not done," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, whose district includes a portion of Douglas County, also voted against the bill.

He said he "strongly opposed" the part of the measure that weakened the authority of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in the process of considering plant permits.

"This bill is industry-driven and falls far short of a comprehensive energy policy," he said.

— Legislators upset by a state regulator's decision to block the construction of two coal-fired power plants in Kansas passed a bill Thursday to overturn his decision and reduce his power.

But Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is expected to veto the bill, and she accused a legislative leader of starting an "auction" in hopes of picking up enough votes to override a veto.

The Senate passed the bill, 31-7, a day after the House approved it.

It's a response to the denial in October of an air-quality permit for Sunflower Electric Power Corp. and two out-of-state partners by Sebelius' secretary of health and environment.

The companies want to build the two plants in southwest Kansas, outside Holcomb, a town of 1,900 best known previously for being the site of the murder of four family members that inspired Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood."

The bill allows Sunflower and its partners to reapply for the permit, under rules requiring the secretary to approve it, allowing the $3.6 billion project to go forward. It also limits his power to deny future air-quality permits and to impose new limits on pollution and greenhouse gases, such as CO2, linked to global warming.

Many legislators argue restrictions on the secretary's power will restore consistency and fairness in how the state regulates potential air hazards. Sebelius contends they'd prevent the secretary from protecting public health and the environment.

Sebelius said Thursday that she'll examine the bill when it reaches her desk but added, "I haven't seen much to recommend it highly to me."

Supporters had four votes more in the Senate than the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto. But in the House, where the vote was 75-47, they're at least six votes short.

The Democratic governor said she is "stunned" by talk that supporters expect to get enough votes by making trades on other issues. House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, an Ingalls Republican and strong supporter of the bill, has said opponents will "let me know what they want" on the budget and other issues.

"He seems to be inviting a legislative auction on a very important policy decision," Sebelius told The Associated Press. "I think their constituents would be disappointed that they would be playing 'Let's make a deal' with energy policy."

But Neufeld said the governor misinterpreted his remarks.

"This isn't eBay," Neufeld said. "The comment I made is in regard to the fact that people are now telling me what they want. That doesn't mean I'm opening an auction and trading."

The final version of the bill was drafted by three senators and three House members, who included several "green" provisions designed to attract the support of reluctant House members. The Senate had debated none of them, but they didn't cause problems with supporters sustaining their two-thirds majority there.

Those provisions include a mandate that renewable resources, such as wind, account for 10 percent of the generating capacity by 2012 of investor-owned utilities and electric cooperatives. The figure would rise to 20 percent by 2020.

"It advances a secure energy policy for Kansas," said Earl Watkins Jr., Sunflower's chief executive officer. "It effectively ensures that we'll have affordable energy in the future."

As for Sebelius' threatened veto, Watkins said: "I hope she reconsiders. If she doesn't, then we'll just have to deal with it."

But Sierra Club spokeswoman Stephanie Cole said the bill represents a break with national trends and, "It does seems a little bit peculiar, doesn't it?"

She noted that dozens of coal-fired plants were abandoned or delayed last year. Also, this week the federal government suspended a major loan program for plants in rural communities, saying uncertainties surrounding climate change and rising construction costs make such loans too risky.

"It brings us back to the question of, what's the matter with Kansas?" Cole said.

Sebelius said that if she vetoes the bill, as expected, and legislators sustain her veto, she'll continue to try to work out a compromise.

She's proposed allowing Sunflower to build one of its plants if it commits to investing in wind farms and conservation programs. Sunflower has rejected the deal, saying it needs two plants to keep out-of-state partners who will help finance the project.

"I fully intend to go back to the table with the proposal that I made at the outset," Sebelius said.

Neufeld has been confident that supporters will pick up the extra votes they'll need to override a Sebelius veto. After Wednesday's vote in the House, he said some opponents want commitments on budget issues, while others have proposals they want debated - or blocked.

On Thursday, Neufeld said, "I've made it very clear to everybody that I'm not trading any votes or anything on that energy issue."

"What that means is that we're finally hearing from people what's important to them," he said.

He also said Sebelius is promising legislators they won't have opponents in this year's elections if they vote with her, but he didn't list examples.

"That's a different issue," Neufeld said. "She can trade that if she wants to."

But Sebelius said: "I have had conversations with legislators about this issue all throughout the session and have never, at any point in any conversation, talked about anything but the energy policy we're making."


BrianR 10 years, 2 months ago

Coal. SNORT. That is so f-ing hilarious. What kind of backwater are we trying to be? The coal advocates realize that coal is a finite resource, don't they? Hell, if Neufeld stands in front of a windmill and talks, he should be able to singlehandedly supply ample energy to most of western Kansas.

CatFan 10 years, 2 months ago

The Gov is "stunned"? Get real. She's in the middle of a purely political move to advance her career at the expense of Western Kansas. Her actions are nothing but resume fodder. Check out where she plays warm and fuzzy with the low income crowd. She's offered no clue on how anyone, low income or not, will pay winter heating bills when utilities use even more gas for electric generation. Do she have any clue as to why natural gas prices at the well head have tripled or quadrupled since the late 90s? Mostly higher demand from the last round of gas-fired generation construction. Low income advocates ought to be shaking in their boots when they think about the impact of the environmentalist's "gas/wind" strategy. Of course, the eastern Kansas Democrats won't have to worry quite as much as long as their local utilities get a free pass on existing coal units.

Jerry Stubbs 10 years, 2 months ago

Wall Street investment bankers recently announced that loans to build new coal plants were risky because of the concerns over future CO{-2} emission controls.

Regulations for costly carbon dioxide controls are being considered by Congress.

Kansas will be stuck paying for Colorado electricity.

dozer 10 years, 2 months ago

I have no doubts Neufeld would auction votes, look at what he did back in 1996. Of course he can still hide behind "legislative dealings" on the floor to get off on a technicality. State v. Neufeld, 260 Kan. 930.

DaREEKKU 10 years, 2 months ago

What a HeApInG LoAD of crap! As oil surges to all time highs people would rather say things like "I say build the plants" rather than face facts! Take the jobs and put them into renewable energy. There is no reason that Kansas could not become THE leading state for wind energy. Embarrassing, selfish, conceded lawmakers like this are what give midwestern states like ours a bad rep. AND complacent citizens contribute their fair share as well.

OnlyTheOne 10 years, 2 months ago

Note to dummies in Topeka - any legislator who votes for these plants is on my work against reelection list. Now if only about a few hundred thousand more said that then the dummies might get the idea we're "mad as hell and not going to take it any more!"

Thanks to "Network" for one of the best quotes ever.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

Wind Power Set to Become World's Leading Energy Source

Lester R. Brown

In 1991, a national wind resource inventory taken by the U.S. Department of Energy startled the world when it reported that the three most wind-rich states-North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas-had enough harnessable wind energy to satisfy national electricity needs. Now a new study by a team of engineers at Stanford reports that the wind energy potential is actually substantially greater than that estimated in 1991.

Advances in wind turbine design since 1991 allow turbines to operate at lower wind speeds, to harness more of the wind's energy, and to harvest it at greater heights-dramatically expanding the harnessable wind resource. Add to this the recent bullish assessments of offshore wind potential, and the enormity of the wind resource becomes apparent. Wind power can meet not only all U.S. electricity needs, but all U.S. energy needs.

In a joint assessment of global wind resources called Wind Force 12, the European Wind Energy Association and Greenpeace concluded that the world's wind-generating potential-assuming that only 10 percent of the earth's land area would be available for development-is double the projected world electricity demand in 2020. A far larger share of the land area could be used for wind generation in sparsely populated, wind-rich regions, such as the Great Plains of North America, northwest China, eastern Siberia, and the Patagonian region of Argentina. If the huge offshore potential is added to this, it seems likely that wind power could satisfy not only world electricity needs but perhaps even total energy needs. (See data.)

Over the last decade wind has been the world's fastest-growing energy source. Rising from 4,800 megawatts of generating capacity in 1995 to 31,100 megawatts in 2002, it increased a staggering sixfold. Worldwide, wind turbines now supply enough electricity to satisfy the residential needs of 40 million Europeans.

Wind is popular because it is abundant, cheap, inexhaustible, widely distributed, climate-benign, and clean-attributes that no other energy source can match. The cost of wind-generated electricity has dropped from 38¢ a kilowatt-hour in the early 1980s to roughly 4¢ a kilowatt-hour today on prime wind sites. Some recently signed U.S. and U.K. long-term supply contracts are providing electricity at 3¢ a kilowatt-hour. Wind Force 12 projected that the average cost per kilowatt hour of wind-generated electricity will drop to 2.6¢ by 2010 and to 2.1¢ by 2020. U.S. energy consultant Harry Braun says that if wind turbines are mass-produced on assembly lines like automobiles, the cost of wind-generated electricity could drop to 1-2¢ per kilowatt hour.

more on this matter:

Baille 10 years, 2 months ago

Neufeld's lack of integrity shines through again. You just can't keep a bad man down.

ENGWOOD 10 years, 2 months ago

Sunflower! Boeing! Damn Gov. You support NAFTA too?

Evan Ridenour 10 years, 2 months ago

It is nice to know that our state legislature representatives trade votes to support each others pet projects.

Corruption at its finest.

notajayhawk 10 years, 2 months ago

CatFan (Anonymous) says:

"The Gov is "stunned"? Get real. She's in the middle of a purely political move..."

I also wonder why the state's top politician would be "stunned" by politics. [sigh]

snowWI 10 years, 2 months ago

Neufeld never really surprises me that much. I guess he has not been reading the news lately regarding all the other coal plants that have gotten canceled or the likelihood of national CO2 regulations in the near future. This will be costly for pulverized coal plants both old and new.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

Ratepayers get screwed in the end by politicians throwing subsidies at the wrong stuff.

Chris Golledge 10 years, 2 months ago

"Also, this week the federal government suspended a major loan program for plants in rural communities, saying uncertainties surrounding climate change and rising construction costs make such loans too risky."

Doesn't that tell a story? When the majority finally wakes up to the danger of climate change, operating a fossil fuel plant will become a loosing proposition. Some can foresee this coming and some are oblivious or merely short-sighted. In all likelihood, these plants will be built just in time to get shut down.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 2 months ago

Neufeld is showing his lack of principles. His offers of horse-trading are political amateurism at its finest. His lack of leadership on this issue and reliance on coercion and bribery is pathetic.

Melvin, leave governing the state to the grown ups. Go back to being a farmer and stay out of the important business of the state.

cato_the_elder 10 years, 2 months ago


Humans do, and should, dominate this planet. The most arrogant assertion by some humans in the present day is the belief currently in vogue that humans can somehow 'destroy' the planet as the result of their everyday activities. Grow up, get out of the playpen, resign your membership in PETA and abandon your infatuation with conspiracy theories. You'll find that it's great for your health.

georgeofwesternkansas 10 years, 2 months ago

Well cg22165, if they are going to shut down all coal plants in Kansas, we won't have to turn off the lights before we leave, they will already be off.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 2 months ago

It is no wonder the GOP desire these power plans irrespective of logic and reason.

With the bungle-job that Roberts, Tiahrt, and Brownback did with the Boeing contract, this is a last-ditch effort.

The fact that Roberts, Tiarht, and Brownback failed to bring the Boeing contract to fruition given their connections in the senate and house is what is truly "stunning".

LiberalDude 10 years, 2 months ago

Pine must go! Pine must go! He won't win his seat back next term.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 2 months ago

I miss Bob Dole.

Bob Dole and Nancy Kassenbaum would have made sure that Boeing landed that contract. They would have lobbied tirelessly to make it happen.

Tiarht, Roberts, and Brownback just sit on their thumbs hoping and praying.

georgeofwesternkansas 10 years, 2 months ago

I suspect with all the heat the Pentagon had to take over the Boeing deal, it was lost due to past performance and/or quality. You tend to get a little lazy when you think you have no competition.

RedwoodCoast 10 years, 2 months ago

Maybe they should try to capture all the methane produced by the abundant cattle out there and burn that.

grimpeur 10 years, 2 months ago

I think Kansas should be proud to have a legislator like Neufeld, who has a clear vision for this state's investment in good, solid 18th-century energy policy.

As for job creation and meaningful economic development in our state, I think it should be clear to everyone by now that coal mining is the career of the future. Just ask anyone in West Virginia, where you'll be sure to find ample evidence of big coal's compassion for working folks, stewardship of the environment, and ability to create jobs.

thomgreen 10 years, 2 months ago

I'm lost I guess. I know my personal feelings towards the issue, but I really try to look at both sides of the picture and try to give each side a chance. I can't seem to find any real facts regarding the pro's of this issue. The cons are pretty obvious. But aside from fear mongering propaganda, what are the real benefits of putting these two coal plants in Kansas? How many jobs will it create? What is the economic benefit to the Kansas people in regards to lower utility bills, increased money into the tax coffers, etc. Will only %10 of the energy generated stay in the state of Kansas? What about the profits from selling the excess energy to other states, how will the help in keeping our rates down? Stop calling each other names and give me some facts. Convince me that this is nothing other than a big corporation using their buying power to build something here that no one else wants. If Colorado is getting the majority of the benefit, why not build it there? What makes us attractive compared to them?

c_dubya 10 years, 2 months ago

Logarithmic said: "With oil moving to $105 a barrel, the stupidity of ..."

The stupidity of not allowing for drilling in ANWR or off the coasts and the stupidity of not allowing construction of new refineries is EXACTLY WHY oil is $105 a barrel and EXACTLY WHY you're paying nearly $4 a gallon for gasoline.

Get a clue. No magic wand or change of direction is going to make 'alternative energy' happen overnight. There must be increases in current supplies while the alternatives are implemented. You can't simply cut off our existing energy supply and expect everything to suddenly be 'green.'

CatFan 10 years, 2 months ago

Defender...You miss the point. Natural gas is a fungible commodity...using more of it for electric generation in Colorado or Kansas or anywhere else will drive up home heating costs. "Your" argument is the one destroyed, but I hope you stay warm.

Thomgreen..."profits" really aren't an issue...all 4 buyers of power from the new units are coops, not-for-profit utilities owned purely by their customers. There are no shareholders. There will be 1000's of construction jobs and 100's of permanent jobs. Property taxes? You bet, and mostly paid for by Colorado and Texas customers. Check with school districts near Jeffrey and Wolf Creek about what a boon power plants are to local governments. Sellling the power in other states helps pay the overheads and makes the output more affordable for Kansas ratepayers. You are correct, though, about the involvement of a big corporation. That would be Chesapeake Energy, 3rd largest gas producer in the US. They are leading the public PR campaign against Sunflower via ; 2007 revenue of $7.8 billion (yes, with a "b"); adjusted net income of $1.6 billion. Have you noticed how they've been so gracious to increase natural gas prices while saying reserves are at a 30-year high? The NYMEX winter strip price for gas is nearing $11.00 per MMBTU. In the late 90's you could buy it for about one-fifth as much.

Autie...Will this help rates in Eastern Kansas? Probably not, but are you opposed to helping those in Western Kansas? Are Kansans that parochial? The reason Holcomb was chosen was because of the existing plant (the only coal unit in Western Kansas) allows some economy of scale. You mention dilution...where do you suppose the CO2 from all the Eastern Kansas coal units go? Mostly to Missouri; maybe that's why you are glad to keep them running in your backyard. You are correct that you can install a small wind turbine at your house. The DOE says the current price for a 10 kW unit is about $40,000.

Merrill....2 cent wind power is a pipe dream. Current prices from the latest US wind farms are in the 5 cent range and headed up because of the big demand for wind turbines around the world. Adding back the federal tax incentive puts the actual cost at near 7 cents. And that's for intermittent power, not firm base load.

Mooner...No, Kansas will not pay for Colorado energy...but their $ will help make the plant more affordable for Kansas users. Carbon taxes will be collected on a per kWh basis; whoever uses the power will pay the tax.

landon_alger 10 years, 2 months ago

Roy W. Spencer - reputable scientist? Intelligent design advocate.
(and if you don't like wikipedia, do the search in for Roy Spencer and read his article "Faith-Based Evolution")

snowWI 10 years, 2 months ago

Mr_Values, You have some rather strange thoughts. The majority of Kansans oppose the coal plants. You just don't want to admit it.

snowWI 10 years, 2 months ago

IGW, I think belexus has already stated that SW Kansas does not have the highest KWH rate in the state. I have written and sent messages to KDHE and eps asking them to focus efforts to clean up the existing coal plants that we have in NE Kansas.

toefungus 10 years, 2 months ago

The Gov is ridiculous in her, who me?, attitude. She started this fight and the Republicans has better end it appropriately. The Gov will do anything to get out of Kansas. Notice her help in Ohio did not go very far. They are tired of her family too.

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